Media Haze (I think this post turned out well)

As I’ve mentioned before, I surf the news sites in the morning for my job, so I’m starting to get a real feel for the news world. It’s kind of a cool experience, because I’m learning what will quote “play in Peoria” when it comes to story ideas. I’m also getting to feel the currents of the “news cycle,” a system just like an economy — controlled by thousands of interactions yet has meaningful and understandable macro trends. A stock market analyst tries to listen in to those trends to make money and rack up dollars, and publicity and news people try to listen to the heartbeat of the news in order to rack up eyeballs and people (and nowadays, for money as well).

So I’ve also started to understand what the news is about a little more deeply. I used to think that it was crap, and I think it still kind of is, but I guess the purpose of it was never really to be READ in the sense that one reads a novel or a philosophy book. For these types of writing, one READS it. You take the thing on its own merits and in an intense, engaging way. The news, and I’m not saying it is worse for this fact, is not meant to be READ in that way. Instead, its browsed, looked over, and kind of “soaked in” like one would take a shower. Through these interactions with many pieces, some good, some ok, and most bad, you start to get a feeling for the “beat” or the “rhythm” of the world (or your country or whatever). You start to come into contact with what some have called the collective unconscious, and once you’ve tapped into this behind the scenes, economy of psychological fragments, half ideas, and discarded bits of cultural insights, you gain something, though it is not a knowledge of a type of argument, and you certainly gain nothing like clarity.

Instead, the news cycle is to think tank and journal writing what the mystic or prophet is to the philosopher. One teaches wisdom while the other teaches knowledge (and you know, if you follow this blog, that I don’t at all mean to say that the latter is superior than the former).

Part of how the news allows us to gain wisdom about society is partly because it simply reports facts.  The news may not report all of them, and it may not report only them, but it does report some facts. This is partly how we get in touch with what’s “going on around us.” But through the opinions and videos and snide remarks, we also get in touch with what people are “feeling around us.” We build a rough hunch about the “mood” of the country and in the process of twittering through micro-arguments and sifting through reader comments, and analyzing back-biting and counter back-biting, we come to make some judgments about things. They are easily manipulable and whimsical, but they are the intuitive ways that society organizes its knowledge for the day ahead. Science regiments and organizes our society’s knowledge on a grand scale, and in a slow but implacable way. News on the other hand is science just for today, just for the revolution, or the insult, or the joke. Everyone makes use of it to guide their everyday, intuitive stuff, and that’s its connection to wisdom.

Of course though, I can’t resist constantly engaging with this media haze — this cauldron of automatic-half-insights — and revealing its silliness and its flaws, and its unreasonableness when one takes a different perspective. When one takes the eternal perspective, or the view from nowhere, or the view from forever (rather than the view from here and from now — *see below for some more stuff on this).

So here I am, suggesting that you look at this so you can see how the average article smashes together ideas and concepts that should be kept separate. The point of this article is that people who use OBL’s death as a justification for torture are engaging in torture creep, at first saying that its use is justified for ticking time bomb scenarios and then saying that its used anytime it will bag us a terrorist. This is “torture creep” as the article says. But wait, who really said that? The only thing I’ve heard is that Bin Laden’s capture was a positive for aggressive interrogation. Now one can dispute that claim, but I didn’t really see anyone who said that now torture is justified anytime it can be used to marginally improve our safety (maybe some lunatics say it, but I mean real people).

Also, it’s a confusion to call aggressive interrogation torture. Maybe waterboarding is torture, but aggressive interrogation consists of a very specific number of things including temperature manipulation and slapping (read the memos). Other stuff too, and not all of it shocking at all. In the CIA black sites, techniques were authorized very specifically and overseen carefully: in many cases people who were aggressively interrogated were NOT tortured. The sane person thinks “huh, maybe aggressive interrogation can yield some good information,” contrary to those who think that all this kind of interrogation does is produce falsehoods. In other words, there are some real and complex debates here, not the simply “torture creep” narrative which comes out of nowhere.

Why is the media coverage of the day to day so hazy? Well, I think its because careful thinking requires an ongoing overriding of our natural dispositions (that’s why fallacies of various types are so common: they are so natural). So, it’s hard to carefully think enough to get something out. Instead, you have to WRITE A LOT. If you want to do news and blogging, your ideas are always coming out, never being formed; there’s just no time to see all the ways in which they are wrong. That’s what academics are for.

*Notice that “here” and “now,” what philosophers call indexicals, are paradigmatic news words, and fitting with my thesis, they are not amenable to scientific or “objective” study? Why? Well they are intrinsically first personal. Of course, for any individual sentence someone says like “it’s raining here” there is a translation in terms of non-indexicals. If I say that sentence in Boston, then one can rewrite my sentence as “It’s raining in Boston.” But the concept of “here” cannot enter into scientific study or explanation because it, as its namesake indicates, is indexed to a person and to their particular location on the world. What is here for me is there for you.


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